Review: 'Broadway & Berg' at Feinstein's
July 6, 2011

Nyack composer-lyricist Neil Berg is an acolyte of the Great White Way whose "100 Years of Broadway" revue spreads the word - from Niagara Falls to Amarillo and in between - about the wonders of musical theater.

For two weeks this month, Berg and his theatrical road warriors can put their suitcases away as Berg holds court at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, one of Manhattan's swankiest cabaret addresses.

"Broadway and Berg: Broadway Show Stoppers and the Theater Songs of Neil Berg" gives a glimpse into what the composer is working on, musical adaptations of the film "Grumpy Old Men" and Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King."

When you're Neil Berg's friend, you're family, and Neil Berg and family shine at Feinstein's.

Rob Evan ("Jekyll & Hyde") is that Berg brother who'll play catch whenever you want.

He kicks off the evening with "Broken Arrow" from Berg's "Hexed in the City," a song, appropriately, about a small-town dreamer.

(A lot of Berg's characters are dreamers, it turns out.)

Evan returns later to knock "This Is the Moment" (from "Jekyll & Hyde") out of the park and to sing the duet "Up There" (from "The Man Who Would Be King").

Lawrence Clayton ("Les Miserables") is the older Berg brother who can do anything.

He's equally at ease with an uptempo "Let the Good Times Roll" (by Earl King) or crooning the lush and lovely "An Angel" (from "Grumpy Old Men," with lyrics by Nick Meglin). Clayton rattles the rafters with the gospel-flavored "Rise Up" from "The Twelve," Berg's rocking musical about the apostles after the crucifixion. ("The Twelve" will play B.B. King's on Aug. 9.)

Luba Mason ("Chicago") - who was a senior when Berg was a Tappan Zee High School freshman - is that Berg older sister, the one whose friends you have a crush on.

Mason, the pride of Palisades, slinks her way silkily through Kander and Ebb's "All That Jazz" and then turns her talents to the clever song "Ariel View," sung by her Ann-Margret character in "Grumpy Old Men." Mason deftly changes colors and mood in the winsome "The Mirror Lies," from the same show, which will get an out-of-town tryout in Canada in the fall with Broadway on the horizon.

William Michals - that Berg cousin everybody can't wait to see at the family reunion - delivers "This Nearly Was Mine" from "South Pacific" (as he did in the recent Lincoln Center revival) in a goosebump-inducing performance of control and power. Riveting. Enter the one member of the company who actually is related to Berg, his wife, Rita Harvey, who lends her sweet, clear voice to "Far From the Home I Love," from "Fiddler on the Roof." Harvey's voice is like cooling cream, effortless rising.

A highlight is Harvey's introduction to the "Fairytale," a tender, earnest and unapologetically sentimental song from Berg's "Pollyanna." In Harvey's story, Dolly Parton and Berg's father figure prominently.

"When I was just a girl.

I'd sit on daddy's knee.

And together we would read.

About Knights.

About Queens.

About Jack and his beans."

Just charming.

Between songs, Berg, ever at the piano, weaves the story of influences and events that brought him to this place, crediting those friends-now-family members.

The only time he takes the spotlight himself is to play the instrumental theme, "The Stream," which he dedicates to Grandma Berg, another influential member of the Berg clan, the woman who taught him to love buffets and instilled in him an appreciation for the eclectic.

The two-week run at Feinstein's will include guest appearances - by uncles, aunts and cousins by association. On opening night, it was David Shire (of Snedens Landing), who relieved Berg at the piano to accompany Harvey on "Patterns," a song that appeared in "Closer Than Ever" and "Baby" - both of which he wrote with partner Richard Maltby Jr., who was also in the house. Berg announced that "Closer Than Ever" will return to New York in the fall.

Berg, a musical mensch, manages to make an evening about him not be about him.

It's about the work.

It's about friends.

It's about family.